For successful communication to take place, the one sending the message and the one receiving the message must be on the same page. It is a common occurrence, however, that communication fails to take place. Sometimes, the one sending the message is unclear and the receiver is justifiably unable to understand what is being said. Other times, the sender is perfectly clear. For a host of possible reasons, however, communication fails because the receiver of the message does not accurately interpret what the sender said. In fact, sometimes the failure is so great that when the receiver repeats the message he heard, it is the exact opposite of what the sender meant.
An example of this complete lack of communication occurred recently when the Secretary of Education was speaking to a group of people about how his department was going to help them. He quoted President Ronald Reagan as having said, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” The Secretary was saying that he and Reagan agreed that the government was a great source of assistance when people are faced with a problem.
This is a funny statement because the secretary had seriously misunderstood what Reagan said. Immediately before Reagan said those words, he said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are…” In other words, Reagan was saying the exact opposite of what the secretary said! The government is not a source of help. If it offers to help you, run away. The government will only make things worse. Not surprisingly, the Secretary of Education was the subject of much ridicule in the news.
The same thing sometimes happens when it comes to teaching the Bible. People can say the exact opposite of what God has said in His Word. Most Free Grace people are aware of an example of this in James 2. We have all heard, on many occasions, people say that James says that demons believe and tremble (Jas 2:19). But James doesn’t say that. An imaginary person who disagrees with James makes that statement. However, many preachers say that with this statement James is saying that a person who is saved by genuine faith will do good works. In fact, however, the imaginary person is saying there is no connection between genuine faith and good works.
In other words, when we hear teaching on Jas 2:19, we often are told that James is saying the exact opposite of what he means. A worse misunderstanding of what James is saying would be almost impossible. It would be easy to laugh at such failure to communicate the message of James 2 if the resulting damage done to the Church was not so great.
Another such example is found in 1 John 5:13. In this verse, John says that he wrote 1 John so the readers would know they have eternal life. Everyone who has believed in Jesus for eternal life has that life (vv 10-12).
Incredibly, many teachers today say that 1 John tells us that we cannot know we have eternal life. They maintain that John wrote a number of tests that Christians should apply to their lives. Christians can never know that they have eternal life because we all fail these tests to one degree or another. The most a person can hope for is that he might feel a little better on some days than others.
I must admit that when I heard the Secretary of Education misquote President Reagan, I laughed out loud. I am old enough to remember Reagan, and I have a clear memory of that quote and how funny it was at the time he said it. It was a memorable quote. Through the years, I have heard many people refer to what Reagan said about how we can’t trust the government. It was hilarious that the Secretary of Education would make such an obvious mistake with such classic historical words.
It is no laughing matter, however, when people fail to communicate what God has said. The worst thing that could happen as a result of the Secretary of Education’s blunder is that he comes across looking like he is not qualified to hold his position. But twisting what the Scriptures say can lead to a perverted gospel or a debilitating lack of assurance in the life of a believer. This can lead to defeat in the Christian life and loss of rewards in the world to come.
It appears that the Secretary of Education did not do his homework before he communicated what Reagan had said. When we teach the Word of God, let’s not make the same mistake. As receivers of that Word, may we be diligent to accurately communicate what the Sender has said.